The growing unchurched population in rural settings means the Church has yet another significant mission field!
by Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan
Each summer, dozens of seminary graduates from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL), and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTS), pack up all of their earthly possessions and head out for small towns and rural communities across the country. In 2008, Joshua Lowe left CSL to begin his service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Blue Hill, Neb., a community of less than 900 with no stoplights, no fast food restaurants and no shopping malls.
While the Rev. Lowe had grown up in a small town, the news of his first call was not without some unease. Lowe is visually impaired, lacking depth perception and, therefore, unable to drive. “Being placed in a rural area caused concern at first, unsure the congregation would be able to provide for my transportation needs in an area where one needed to drive nearly everywhere,” says Lowe. The reaction of the congregation, however, was overwhelmingly positive and humbling for the young seminary graduate.
For the first two years of his service, Lowe was dependent upon the members of the congregation to provide transportation for him in carrying out all of his pastoral responsibilities. He said, “It was a wonderful experience to be able to spend so much time with people as they would drive me. In fact, they even lament that they have not gotten to do it as much since I got married!”
There are more than 6,000 congregations in the Synod, and more than half of the congregations of the Synod are found in rural or small-town communities with populations of less than 15,000. This means that many of the seminary graduates will potentially serve in rural and small-town settings.
The seminaries train pastors who will go out to a variety of different types of settings across the country and even around the world. “The seminary taught me to thoroughly study, preach and teach God’s Word and apply it to God’s people faithfully as a Lutheran,” says Lowe, “and to care for them with the love of the Good Shepherd in any context.” At the same time, he also acknowledged that some of the unique challenges of being a rural pastor were not necessarily addressed.
Rural and small-town congregations may not have the same facilities or programs as many suburban and urban congregations. However, these congregations still need pastors who faithfully preach the Word, administer the Sacraments and care for the flock. The growing unchurched population in rural settings also means a significant mission field.
“The people and community make small towns wonderful,” says Lowe. “In many ways, it’s a big family; we share our joys and cares together. If one suffers all suffer, if one rejoices all rejoice as St. Paul says. Small towns may not have the conveniences of cities, but what they have are people who love and care for one another, especially in times of need.” The Rev. Lowe and the people of Trinity in Blue Hill, Neb., are an example of what the joyous relationship of pastor and congregation can be in their Life Together!
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan is senior pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Concordia, Mo., and interim director of Rural and Small Town Mission, a part of the Office of National Mission.